Missional Families, Missional Moms

Missional Families, Missional Moms January 17, 2011

The word “missional” has become for some a softer version of the word “evangelism.” But the word “missional” grows out of a theology that can’t be reduced to the stereotype of evangelism. In essence, missional is about participating in the work God is doing in this world, and since God’s design is for humans to govern the world on his behalf, reflecting his image, and bringing holistic healing to a groaning world/cosmos, the word better expresses what it means to live out God’s purpose for us in this world. Missional, though, includes — indeed, centers on —  the gospel about Jesus Christ. It can’t be reduced to justice or peace.

Quite frankly this world “missional” has become occupied by theologians and up-to-date pastors in spite of the obvious fact that if we are truly missional it means each of us regardless of what we do. I believe the central questions of missional people are What is God doing? and What can I do to help you?

What’s going on with any clusters of “missional moms” in your faith community? Are missional moms being recognized for what they are doing?

Enter Helen Lee, a missional mom in suburban Chicago, a homeschooling missional mom, a birdwatching missional mom — and a writer to boot. Enter her new book, The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home & in the World, and enter into a world that sketches what missional moms are doing in the mission of God.

Pastors need this book the most (and I know that moms will likely see the book for them). Why say this? Because pastors need (1) to know what moms are doing in the mission of God in their churches and (2) pastors need to let Helen teach them how to tell stories about the missional work of moms.

And I would say this: if someone says “what’s missional?” hand them this book. There’s theology here, yes, but this book embodies what missional means.

This book is born out of reality: Helen is the mother of three boys and asked this question: “If motherhood was supposed to be a high and holy calling, why was the daily experience so often draining and joyless?” She wondered about her gifts that she had developed but that were not on the shelf. And she wondered if asking questions about purpose and meaning and calling were signs that she was a bad mother.

Helen Lee can flat-out write and tell a good story and so in this book she plies her journalistic trade to good use around a variety of topics by probing the missional lives of real moms. The book is filled with good stories …

The missional mom embraces the call of her missional God, resists cultural pressures, and is a cultural rebel.

In addition, missional moms engage the needs of this world, they don’t “do evangelism,” they love the least of these, they are Third Culture, the create missional families and they are culture-makers.

But missional moms are not alone and need missional communities for support. The missional mom surrenders all.

I would urge local churches, and any women’s small groups, to think about using this book to explore how you, your family and your church can become more missional.

Here are some powerful observations of what churches can do to encourage missional moms:

Missional churches affirm and celebrate missional moms.
Missional churches support the work women are doing, in or outside the home.
Missional churches challenge cultural values that go against missional ones.
Missional churches encourage service along the lines of gifts, not roles.
Missional churches challenge husbands to be missional as well.
Missional churches encourage moms both to ‘bloom where you’re planted’ and to ‘go where you’ll bloom.”

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  • Scot, this sounds great. Too often in things I’ve read, “missional” is just another word for “church programs,” only this time they take place outside the church walls rather than within them. This, on the other hand, sounds more like the Lutheran doctrine of “vocation,” which I have come to think is under-appreciated by evangelicals. On Internet Monk, we have been calling for a return to an emphasis on vocation, and perhaps a book like this is a helpful sign that some are getting it.

  • Susan N.

    Thanks, Scot, for this book recommendation. The subject hits home with me. These words are golden: “I believe the central questions of missional people are What is God doing? and What can I do to help you?”

    Yes…and Amen! One of my “missions” (which is a joint mission with my children, I might add) among the nursing home Bible study fellowship is to encourage my elderly friends to see how God still has a purpose for them, and they still have opportunities to share the Good News with those in their immediate sphere of influence…both in word and in deed. I think that’s important for them to know…God values them and uses them wherever they are and in whatever capacity they are able, if they can be open to that truth.

    I can relate to needing that kind of encouragement in my role as a homeschool mom.

  • Jason Lee

    honest question: how do we discern what God is doing?

  • This is a huge deal.

    1. Yes, we need to encourage missional moms–those who work at home with their kids usually have more relational margin (and shared mothering experience) in their lives than the rest of us!

    2. Your opening explanation of “missional” is really why I am commenting, though. I help lead communications for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (which I love, see my recent post on my site). We’re often wrestling through how to use “missional.” Your definition is a great one that I’ll share with my team.

    Adam Jeske
    Associate Director of Communications

  • Scot McKnight

    Jason, it would be the combination of a biblical hermeneutic, a theological mind formed through the great theologians, and the courage to act on what we discern is happening today. I know of no other answer.

  • Jim

    @Scott & Jason: Since I come out of a tradition that taught me to keep my nose in the word and suspect anything having to do with “on the ground/day by day” discernment of the movement of God (i.e. read the word and reason it out) this has been a question for me as well.

    One question that helps me in the light of the very things that Scott said is this: “Does this look like the kind of thing God would be doing in our community?” If it does, then I am free to join it.

    However, I can only answer that question if my heart (seeing) is prepared by the kinds of things Scot mentions, as well as much prayer and participation in a faithful community of believers.

  • Thank you Scot, for what you are doing with your influence to raise awareness of the critical role of women in the church. Helen is an amazing woman and I can’t wait to share her words with my own circle of influence.

  • Jason Lee

    thanks for the reply scot. i like the hermeneutical-theological mind part. this seems right and seems to correct some of the facile takes on this that are out there. but the last part of what you said still leaves me fuzzy … using “discern” in an explanation of “discern”: “courage to act on what we discern is happening today.” But how do we discern? I realize this is probably a book-length question…but I see a whole lot of Christian siblings discerning what God’s about differently and with (seemingly) strong confidence…therefore I ask what for me is a basic pressing question: How is it exactly that we discern what God is doing so that we can join God?

  • smcknight

    Jason, I’ve got a bit about this in my Blue Parakeet, but this is a post about missional moms and not about how to discern. That OK? Sorry. Off to my library.

  • MikeK

    Re: missional. Good call. I had colleague a few weeks ago reduce “missional” to “do evangelism” before some younger colleagues. I just cringed.

    That kind of reduction continues unabated, and also contributes to how people, like my colleague, have no clarity on the distinction between mission and proclamation.

    BTW, thanks for the plug on Helen Lee’s book; I’m enjoying it now.

  • dopderbeck

    Cool. Great stuff.

  • JohnM

    Continuing my contrarian streak (with the disclaimer that I haven’t read the book):

    Missional sounds a lot like this generations catch phrase. What’ll it be tomorrow? I guess I need to learn more about missional.

    Some of the”observations of what churches can do to encourage missional moms:” strike me as baptizing contemporary middle class suburban cultural values rather than challenging them.

  • JohnM, I am all for contrarian comments. I do take on what I consider “barriers to missional living” that are prevalent in suburban Christian culture, such as pushing our kids towards overachievement and busyness, pursuing a lifestyle of consumerism and materialism, and adopting a perspective towards our family life bordering on idolatry. I don’t address every such barrier out there, but I tried to highlight those that seemed so most prevalent in the suburban Christian context. If you have a chance to take a look at the book, I’ll be interested to hear what you think!

  • Jason Lee

    The La Leche League was a movement/organization that was launched by devout Christian mothers and supported and extended out by a network of churches. This movement has had an enormous impact. Two things though:
    1) I don’t think it’s kept a lot of its original Christian vision.
    2) It mainly draws its membership from married middle and upper-middle class women.

    Thought: Considering the fact that in America today 41% of children are born to unmarried women, I wonder how today’s missional mothers (and those who support and facilitate their work) can avoid the isolation that La Leche League has unintentionally drifted toward.

  • JohnM


    “If you have a chance to take a look at the book…”. -Will do 😉

  • Scot, thanks for calling pastors to support and embrace the work of moms that goes beyond the daily grind of “just being a mom.” It’s an encouragement to me as a mom and as a Jesus follower who wants to make a difference in and through my kids. Thanks also for supporting the work of an amazing writer and woman. Exciting to see!

  • Scot, thanks so much for introducing your readers to Helen Lee and her book. Very excited to read it.

    As a pastor, and a home schooling mom, I read this post with excitement! Thankful that others are now seeing the strategic roles moms can play, not only in their homes, but in our faith communities, our neighborhoods and around the world.

    As I read the excerpts from the book on Amazon, I kept nodding my head in agreement. Excited to find someone who, also, lives outside-of-the-box.

    I look forward to receiving the book (purchased it today) and reviewing it on my blog. As well, I intend to share it with others!

    Thanks, Helen, for writing this! Looking forward to checking out the “Missional Moms” website!

    And, Scot, several years ago, after reading several of the blogposts re: women ministry and asking some questions, I received an email from you, which helped to take some of the ‘fussiness’ away re: my personal calling to vocational ministry and women’s roles in the church. Thank you for taking the time to respond to me.


  • Oops *women in ministry and *fuzziness